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What’s your goal in phoning freelance & consulting prospects?

The best reason to phone possible freelance and consulting clients (also called “cold calling” if you do not yet have a relationship with them) is to find out if they use freelancers or consultants to provide the services you offer.

If the answer is “yes,” tell them you’re interested in working with them and would like to discuss opportunities.

And if they don’t use freelancers or consultants, offer them information about your services (preferably right then during your conversation) or to email info so they can contact you if the need arises at a later date.

And now for some not-as-great reasons to phone potential clients:

To set up a get-acquainted appointment in their office although there is no specific assignment in the future. The first problem here is that if you are tightly niched, few of your clients will be close enough that an in-person appointment is reasonable.

The second problem is that the distance may be somewhat reasonable but the trip can still be expensive in terms of both time and money. Here in the Chicago suburbs, travel to a distance suburb can take considerably more than an hour, especially in rush hour, and a trip into the city involves expensive parking as well.

The third problem is that the appointment is unlikely to result in paying work. If nothing is in the offing, the meeting may be simply a small diversion for them since you’re putting in a lot of effort and they’re just promising to talk with you for a few minutes. They may simply be gathering ideas from you for their own implementation. (I once discussed newsletter content ideas with an insurance agent for over an hour, and at the end of the conversation, he revealed that a relative had a PhD in English and so she’d be able to write it for him.)

The fourth problem is a new one: pricing is so diverse for many types of work that your rates may be far higher than anything they have in mind. Some people are shopping for rates commensurate with the lowest rates found on Elance and other online services and will not pay more.

One “solution” would be to state your rates before the visit so there’s no misunderstanding. This contradicts popular negotiating strategies but can save you a lot of time.

To set up an appointment to talk by phone later. Some people believe they are honoring the other person’s limited time by arranging another time to talk later. However, I believe it is best to carry the conversation as far as possible when the person takes the call.

Corporate people tend to have lots of appointments on their calendars and they are constantly adding more. Therefore, it can take seven minutes to schedule the follow-up call when the resulting call may only require 10 to 15 minutes total. Furthermore, the scheduled slot may not stick.

When someone answers the phone, I figure they are open to conversation. If they are busy—or if I hear other people in the office—then I suggest we talk at another time. But there’s no reason for postponement if they appear to be available on the spot.

To see if they have an assignment to be done right now. If you are calling them out of the blue without any knowledge of possible assignments, it is unlikely that they have something waiting to be done but no one to assign it to. So if you simply ask for work, they may say they don’t have anything and bring the conversation to a close. Better to talk to them initially about future work as well as current since obtaining either is your goal.

To ask permission to contact them again by phone or follow-up email. Don’t ask. Just call or send when you feel the time is right. When you ask, you are inviting them to say “no.” And since we are offering valuable information and are not pests (right?), we are not taking advantage of them.

The exception is when we are asking them to sign up for an ongoing newsletter. If it is double-opt-in, meaning that they need to click on the invitation to be on the list, this should be brought to their attention.

And if they volunteer that they don’t want any further contact, note this in your database and, of course, don’t contact them in the future.

Phoning is a much more comfortable process when you know in advance what your objective is. Then you know from the start how to collect the information you need and how to lead the conversation.


Originally posted 9-7-11

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